Young and Hungry

Local Chefs Have an Idea to Improve D.C. School Lunches

carrie art 007_optAs reported today by Ed Bruske, a group of local chefs, led by Restaurant Eve's Cathal Armstrong, is working on a pilot program to try to improve the lunch program at Tyler Elementary on Capitol Hill. Armstrong has formed a non-profit, Chefs as Parents, as a way to break the economic stranglehold that forces school districts and their students to keep choking down crappy, commercial foods.

Writes Bruske:

Armstrong said he was alarmed by the food he saw being served at the school through the school system’s contracted food service provider, Chartwells. “It was just awful stuff,” he said. In January he met with other chefs at Brasserie Beck, where he reportedly said, “What we are feeding our children is an outrage. We should be marching with picket signs and pitchforks in revolution.”

The model that Armstrong and his fellow chefs are proposing for Tyler, pending final approval of DCPS poopahs, will require parental volunteers, a build-out of the under-equipped school kitchen, and a new staff to execute this fresh-food initiative. In other words, there's lot of work to do yet before the school year starts next month.

Bruske provides more details:

Armstrong was at the school yesterday to inspect its ancient kitchen and conduct an inventory of equipment needs, taking photographs of everything in sight. He found a space with lots of room to walk around in–and house temporary offices for school staff–but only a gas-fired convection oven for actual cooking. The oven has been used to reheat the packaged meals trucked in from a factory in suburban Maryland. The chefs group, which includes Robert Wiedmaier of Brasserie Beck, R.J. Cooper, formerly of Vidalia, and noted pastry chef David Guas, hopes to turn the space into a fully operational kitchen with equipment donated by manufacturers, including a stove, a dishwasher and sinks.

With only a few weeks left to go before school resumes, Armstrong and his cohorts were piecing the project together on the fly. Armstrong, who said involving parents in daily cafeteria operations is crucial to the project’s success, met with about 20 Tyler Elementary parents last week at the home of one of the parent organizers, Dan Traster. Traster said an issue of concern to many parents is whether they can find time to help. But Traster said he already is getting calls from parents who are eager to participate.

“People work and they’re concerned about whether they’ll be able to make the time to help in the cafeteria,” Traster said. “But we have many parents who are really passionate about the food issue. They want to do whatever they can.”

It was still unclear exactly what role parents would play–most likely not cooking food, but perhaps serving meals from the steam table, clearing dishes and otherwise assisting with meal service in the cafeteria. Traster said he thought it would be “a miracle” if the chefs were actually serving meals on the first day of school. But he thought they could be up and running sometime in September or early October.

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